Lawmakers call on Senate to confirm Maryland's U.S. Attorney nominee after delay over Russia probe questions

Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation called on the Senate to confirm President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Maryland’s U.S. Attorney after revelations he is being held up over questions about oversight of the Justice Department.

The confirmation of Robert K. Hur, nominated in November to take over for former U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, is being delayed as Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee seek information about oversight of the investigations into the 2016 presidential election, The Baltimore Sun reported.

Hur, a former assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland, is currently the principal associate deputy attorney general under Rosenstein. Rosenstein, a career prosecutor, left the Maryland job in April to become deputy attorney general.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Sun this week that he had a “follow-up question” about Hur’s nomination, but he would not elaborate on his specific concerns.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, objected Friday.

“Senator Grassley should not hold the Maryland U.S. attorney nomination hostage for a partisan political attempt to protect President Trump by undermining and attacking the Justice Department,” the Baltimore lawmaker said.

“Given the pressing issues we are dealing with in Baltimore and across the state, it is important that we have a permanent U.S. attorney in place. This is not the time for political games.”

A spokesman for Grassley did not respond to a request for comment.

The delay for Hur comes as Baltimore wrestles with a violent crime rate that, while down to start 2018, remains higher than normal. The city suffered 41 homicides during the first two months of this year, down 13 from last year but above the five-year average.

“Maryland needs our U.S. attorney on the job now, working as a strong partner with state and local officials,” Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement.

“Our state needs a permanent U.S. attorney, and I encourage the Senate Judiciary Committee to advance a nominee as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House.

All of the lawmakers who weighed in Friday were Democrats, who hold nine of the state’s 10 seats in the House and Senate. Rep. Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican in Congress, declined to comment.

Hur, a Republican, drew broad support from members of both parties when he was nominated last fall. Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, also a Maryland Democrat, said in a joint statement last year they were “impressed with [Hur’s] record of public service.”

It’s not clear precisely what material Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is requesting from the Justice Department. Asked this week whether he opposed Hur specifically, Grassley said it would depend on the information provided by the department.

Sources with knowledge of the process said Republicans on the committee have asked the Justice Department for material regarding oversight of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is leading the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Grassley has been pressing the Justice Department to name a second special counsel to look into the events leading up to Mueller’s appointment. In an interview with Fox News, Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham said they were concerned about the FBI’s review of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s private email server, among other issues.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he believed that probe was “shoddily done, that there were conflicts of interest, that there was political bias that may have resulted in giving Clinton a pass.”

Grassley, Graham and two other Judiciary Committee Republicans wrote a letter to the Justice Department Thursday contending that an ongoing inspector general’s review of those events is insufficient because the office “does not have the tools that a prosecutor would to gather all the facts.”

Beyond Baltimore, the Maryland suburbs of Washington have suffered violent crime carried out by MS-13, the best known of the gangs that originated in the 1980s among Central American immigrants in Los Angeles.

Trump and his Justice Department have made the prosecution of MS-13 members a top priority. Attorney General Jeff Sessions discussed the issue in a visit to Baltimore in December.

“We need to get Maryland’s U.S. Attorney confirmed without delay,” Van Hollen said. He said he is working with the committee and the Justice Department to advance Hur’s nomination.

Neither Van Hollen nor Cardin are members of the Judiciary Committee.

Trump nominated 58 U.S. attorneys in 2017, including seven on the day Hur was named in early November. Fifty-six of those have been confirmed by voice vote in the Senate. A 57th, William M. McSwain, who was nominated in December to be the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was approved Thursday by the Judiciary Committee.

That leaves Hur — who has not yet been scheduled for consideration by the committee — as the only one left over from 2017.

Stephen M. Schenning has been serving as the acting U.S. attorney in Maryland since late April. A Baltimore native, Schenning was the first assistant U.S. attorney from 2011 until Rosenstein’s departure. Schenning has the same legal powers as a Senate-confirmed attorney.

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